Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday word, 13 Mar 16

Christian Body-Language
Lenten Sunday5 C (13 Mar 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The 18th-C revivalist preacher, Jonathan Edwards, resolved to join himself to God in his daily living. He remembered to read his 70 Resolutions each week.1 One echoed St. Paul. It read: “[I will] frequently…renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church.”2 Edwards took seriously his faith and his relationship with God.

So did St. Paul. He repeatedly dedicated himself to risen Jesus, who met Paul when he was bent on destroying the followers of Jesus every place Paul could reach. Risen Jesus was no idea for Paul; he was the person on whom Paul shaped his new life.

Paul was a Pharisee. Not any Pharisee. As he noted to the Philippians: he was zealous for the law of Moses and blameless in it.3 His credentials tell us Paul had made it, as we would say. His credentials did not matter to him after he met risen Jesus—a meeting that happened as he carried out those very credentials.4 All he had going for him Paul considered rubbish. Bibles often make Paul more mild than he expressed himself. His word here meant dung—detestable garbage.

If Paul’s attitude toward all he gained shocks us, his attitude and desire to be like Jesus makes us shiver. Paul did not want only to be found in Jesus; Paul wanted to take on the same form of Jesus in his death! If Jesus took human form for our sake,5 then Paul wanted his human form to be as Christian, Christ-like as possible.

Stretching to join risen Jesus did not paralyze Paul. He pressed on like an Olympic athlete toward his goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. That call upward leads to freedom; free not to be trapped by passing things and free to embrace what gives fuller life and meaning. To that freedom St. Paul called his Philippian friends—and us. His words along with the gospel of the woman caught in adultery alert us that its focus is the same freedom: full, deeply satisfying living.

From the beginning the church considered this gospel God’s word. That did not stop this gospel from challenging, even embarrassing, the church. Yet, explaining the story escapes reasonable people. Reason may get in the way of this gospel even more than others. What to do? St. Paul’s words suggest we let Jesus’ body-language speak.

The story is more about Jesus than about the woman. The religious leaders tried again to trap Jesus; so desperate that time they used a woman. Jesus knew the trap was tight: overturning Moses would be a steep risk. Harsh punishment of women was debated while Jesus lived, yet Jesus had to deal with an unsettled issue. Or did he? Twice he bent down to write on the ground with his finger. Twice he stood up. The first time he stood and quoted scripture; those condemning the woman left their condemning and the scene; some resumed it soon. The second time  he stood, Jesus was free to make an upward calling to the woman, his words of freedom—Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.

Jesus was not blind to her sin or those of his accusers. He wanted them to live free from sin not enslaved by it. Jesus wants the same for us. To be formed like Jesus means living freely and not enslaved by sin—ours or that of others. Freedom includes choosing not to sin nor obsessing over it. Choosing not to sin chooses our upward calling in Christ Jesus. Staying near Jesus encourages us to choose him. Rededicating ourselves to Jesus and our upward calling in him are our life’s goal as it was St. Paul’s. Lent helps us rededicate us to Jesus, even if any of us may be slow to enter Lent.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for giving us this Lent to rededicate ourselves to him.
  • Ask him for grace to desire to be formed more after Jesus’ heart and his choices.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer to keep focused on him and to match our living to his upward calling and his compassionate way.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. His 70 Resolutions.
  2. Number 42.
  3. Philippians 3.4-6.
  4. Acts 8.3; 9.1-2; in his words beyond Philippians: Galatians 1.13-14.
  5. Philippians 2.6-7.

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